Personal to Connie Willis:
Come home. All is forgiven.
A very few of you may remember way back in May, when I read Connie Willis’s Blackout. Blackout and All Clear tell the story of three time-traveling historians from Oxford in 2060. Polly, Mike, and Eileen have traveled to the London Blitz in order to study different aspects of it, despite the danger, but now they are in a completely different kind of danger: their drop won’t open to let them return home. They’re stuck, afraid for themselves and each other and the friends they’ve made among the “contemps,” and one of them has an even more pressing problem: she has already been to World War II… later, close to V-E Day. If she is forced to stay until her “deadline,” she knows she can’t be in two places at once: she’ll die.
Perhaps worst of all, there is more and more compelling evidence that they, as historians, are changing the past, and therefore the future. This is not supposed to happen — the Net is supposed to prevent it — but they have to believe the evidence of their eyes: a child’s life saved, a woman who joins the nursing corps on their inspiration. This is the worst terror of all. If the flap of a butterfly’s wings can create a hurricane, what can saving a man’s life at Dunkirk do? The effect may ripple backward and forward in time, causing unknown consequences.
I gave Blackout a fairly negative review, claiming that it was chaotic, that I wasn’t as engaged with the “contemps” as I wanted to be, that the three historians seemed slow on the uptake. Now that I’ve read All Clear, I take it all back. Imagine that you read your favorite novel, and then stop exactly halfway, even if that’s in the middle of a chapter or at a completely illogical spot for character development or plot arc. Now: judge the first half of that novel as a complete novel. What do you think of it? It has potential, right? You care about the characters, but you don’t really see what they’re doing; you feel grumpy and disappointed; you haven’t fully engaged. That’s what happened with these books, in my opinion. It’s one big novel, not a complete novel and its sequel. Why in God’s name it was marketed this way is totally beyond me.
All Clear, on the other hand, when joined properly to its other half, is marvelous. It’s moving and fascinating and detailed. You get to see all kinds of things come to fruition that were only hinted at in the first half. Things you thought were absolutes turn out to be true, but in a different way; light shines from a different direction. You get a real understanding of what life was like during the war in England, and more. I was shaken and touched. I had held out hope in my other review that All Clear might redeem Blackout. It does more than that. It turns it into a different kind of novel, it explains it, it makes it into one great, terrific (1300-page, admittedly) experience. All my faith in Connie Willis has been restored, and then some! Please, please — if you read these, read them back-to-back, but read them!
Note: I didn’t mean to make this Connie Willis week, with Teresa reading To Say Nothing of the Dog, but I’m not sorry!